Do you ever suffer anxiety around noise? Or is it just me?
Loud noises are a relatively new trigger of mine. I don’t mean the sound of an airplane flying by, or a balloon popping, or kids playing in the schoolyard.
Side note, the sound of a balloon popping would probably cause severe anxiety in me, but mostly because I have an irrational fear of all things balloony.
Everyday noises are ok… mostly. Noise in a place where you expect it to be noisy is also ok.
The thing that triggers my anxiety and spikes my nerves is usually the combination of noise.
For example, if three people are trying to speak to me at once.
Or if I’m listening to music (a little too loudly), while dancing in the kitchen, and my child asks me for basic help on their homework, “how do you spell the word…”
I might snap.
It never used to be this way.
Anxiety Around Noise and Loud Thoughts
I used to be able to listen to music while doing all things. I used to be able to multi-task my schoolwork while also watching TV.
I used to be able to have multiple conversations at once, by talking to my roommate, typing on msn, and also writing an email… and there was always music or television on in the background.
I have no idea how I did this, nor if I accomplished anything successfully – but considering I graduated from university, I must have done at least a couple of things well.
Now, things are so much different. I have to focus on one thing at a time, or it simply gets too loud.
You know what I realized? This anxiety around noise comes from the fact that I have loud thoughts.
I have so many more thoughts now, and so frequently, that any actual noise just becomes too much.
We forget that our thoughts are the equivalent of noise. So all that sound in our heads in combination with any sound outside of our head can be a nightmare.
The easiest way for me to explain this is by using the car as an example.
Cutting Out the Noise with Focus
When I’m driving, I need to focus on the road, other cars, and all the signs. That’s a lot of thinking right there.
I like to sing and dance (meaning move my shoulders, bob my head, and from time to time, use hand gestures) while driving.
But, if I also have to pay attention to the GPS because I don’t know where I’m going, well, there goes the singing and dancing.
I can still listen to music, but the volume is low, and I mostly tune it out while listening to the directions.
Now, if someone is in the car with me, and trying to have a conversation with me, I will turn the power off on the radio.
That’s far too much sound coming into my brain: my thoughts, rules of the road, GPS, and conversation.
Often times, I have to ask my family to be quiet – just for a minute so that I can focus. Even if they aren’t talking to me.
I have two kids in the back who play really nicely with each other. They talk and tell jokes and play little hand games – yeah, I have no idea what they’re doing back there, but they’re happy.
I will tell them to be quiet, just so I can focus on the road and the upcoming traffic because I have to get over three lanes due to construction.
It’s too much noise. Even their happy laughter; it’s just adding to my own noise and I can feel the panic in me rising.
When I’m at work, I have to wear a headset. This is because I need to focus on my computer, and I have to tune out the surrounding noise.
Sometimes I’m in meetings or taking calls, and yes, the headset is actually being used.
Other times there is no sound coming into my ears, and that’s what I like.
It helps me focus on the work I’m doing without the office chatter distraction.
I need to quiet my surroundings because the noise in my head, i.e. thoughts, is so loud already.
Anxiety Around Noise and the Repercussions
So far, I’ve only mentioned ‘normal’ thoughts. What about all the paranoid thoughts I have that come with having a social anxiety disorder?
It’s the same thing but two-fold. More noise. The way I react to that noise goes hand in hand with the disorder as well.
Having panic attacks.
The more noise there is, the more panic attacks there are.
I am learning to cope. I am learning how to react.
I have learned how to quiet that inner voice, since I often times don’t have control over my surroundings.
Yes, I can turn the power off on the car radio, but I can’t control the sounds of construction, or ambulances, or horns.
What I’ve learned over the course of decades dealing with anxiety, you can’t always control the level of noise coming from your surroundings, but you can control the noise coming from your head.
This is a topic, potentially even a course, all on its own.
To those of you who are supporting someone with anxiety, I will finish by saying the same thing I always say – be patient and be kind.
Sometimes we just need quiet. Sometimes we just need to be away from all the external distractions.
Sometimes we just need to focus on the internal noise, so that we can reduce our own anxiety before we deal with the external stuff.
Thank you for your understanding.